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Johnson Cancer Research Center

Dr. Christopher Culbertson

Department: Chemistry
Departmental Website

Cancer Early-Detection Test

"Our team, in collaboration with Stefan Bossmann, chemistry, is developing a point-of-care microfluidic device (aka lab on a chip) to detect cancers at their earliest stages when patient prognosis is best and treatment options are less expensive. This device can automatically process a variety of bodily fluids to isolate biomarkers that can be detected using an array of nanobiosensors developed by Dr. Bossmann that are integrated into the device. This nanobiosensor array is powerful because no single biological marker for cancer is different enough from its normal concentration in the body to make an accurate diagnosis. The combination of several markers slightly out of their normal ranges, however, can be detected using statistical methods to give a robust diagnosis. We have developed the technology to package and array these nanobiosensors into a small, inexpensive and partially disposable microfluidic platform that can be integrated with a smart phone. We envision that such a device could be used in a physician’s office during annual checkups to diagnose a variety of cancers in their earliest stages."

Kinase Signaling

"Kinases are enzymes that transfer phosphorous-containing molecules to other proteins, which can be very important to the functionality of the recipient. Our group is interested in how the misregulation of various kinase signaling pathways within a cell leads to uncontrolled cell growth (i.e. cancer). Because of the rapid nature of the kinase signaling processes it is difficult to study such cascades on the pooled contents of many cells; therefore, we are pioneering an alternative method that focuses on measuring kinase activation in individual cells. In order to handle and manipulate individual cells, we use microfluidic (aka lab on a chip) devices. These devices have channels etched in them that are smaller than a human hair. We can direct cells through these channels and expose them to various reagents that can either activate or inhibit particular kinases. We then rapidly break open the cell and separate out the various kinases to see how the reagents (both potential cancer causing agents and potential pharmaceutical agents) perturb the signaling cascade."